Maximus the Confessor:
Source Used: Ante-Nicene Fathers: The Writings of the Fathers Vol. I – Vol. X and Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers: Series I, Vol. I – Vol. XIV & Series II, Vol. I – Vol. XIV. Edited by Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe. (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1885.)
How a wise man can become wiser by taking the opportunity, and how an instructed just man can receive more instruction, according to the divine Proverb, you have clearly shown by your experience, most venerable of all to me. You have taught me by deed that to which the divine Scripture makes but wise allusion. For you heard me once relate, in a brief and cursory way, the beautiful and mystical reflections of a certain grand old man and truly wise in divine matters, about the holy Church and the holy synaxis performed in it. And as they are especially rich in teaching value you hastened to ask me to make a written account of these things for you, wanting to have my writing as a remedy against forgetfulness and as an aid for the memory, saying that it has time taking its natural toll on it which imperceptibly strips it of all the good things it had stored up, and could even cause the figures and images to disappear. Thus there was great need of a means of refreshing by which the power of the word could be kept always at its peak by keeping memory undisturbed and undiminished. And how to seek a tenacious permanence of what has been heard is wiser than simply to hear it is well known to anyone who gives even a little concern to the nobility of reason and who is not altogether a stranger to its friendship. To be very frank, I must say that at first I shrank from this proposal of a treatise and tried to beg off. It is not, beloved brothers, that I do not want to give you in every way what you have in mind as far as I am able, but rather because I have not yet been granted a share in the grace which would lead those who are worthy to such a task. Moreover, I do not have experience in the power and practice of discourse, since my education was private, and I have remained quite ignorant of the art of discourse which finds favour in mere eloquence in which many people especially delight while limiting their enjoyment to the hearing, even if it often contains nothing of merit by way of depth. But it is truer and more accurate to say that by the cheapness of our discourse I feared to insult the sublimity and interpretation of that blessed man concerning the divine subject. But finally I yielded to the force of love, which is stronger than everything, and readily accepted the task, preferring by obedience to be ridiculed for presumption and ignorance by those who would complain than to be considered by my delay to be unwilling to share your eagerness for every good thing. And so, I cast my care about speaking upon the Lord, who is the only miracle-worker, the one who teaches man knowledge, who clears up the speech of stammerers, who contrives a way for those who are without resources, who lifts up the poor from the earth and raises the needy from the dunghill. This dunghill is the carnal way of thinking! and the foul slime of the passions. The poor man is the one who is poor in spirit or the one who is poor in wickedness and in the habit resulting from it, or else on the other hand, he is still bound to the law of the flesh and the passions who because of this is poor in virtue and knowledge and in need of grace.
But since the symbols of the sacred celebration of the holy synaxis have also been considered by the most holy and truly divine interpreter Dionysius the Areopagite in a manner which is worthy of his great mind in his treatise Ecclesiastical Hierarchy, it should be known that the present work will not repeat these same things nor will it proceed in the same manner. It would, in fact, be foolhardy and presumptuous and near madness for those who are not yet able to grasp or understand what he experienced to treat of the same subject, or to bring forward as their own the mysteries that were revealed by the Spirit to him alone. Instead, my subject will be those things which God in his goodness wanted him to leave for others for the interpretation and exercise of the habit of these things in accordance with their desire for divine things. In them the beaming ray of ceremonies, once grasped, becomes understood in proportion to them and draws to itself those who are seized by this desire. And this is so that those who come after him might not remain completely idle during the whole duration of the present life, their reason not being hired to tend this divine vine, that is, for the spiritual tillage of the spiritual vine. It restores to us the spiritual wage of the divine and very royal image which was snatched away from us in the beginning by the evil one through the deception of transgressing the commandment.
But I do not promise to narrate in order everything that the blessed old man mystically contemplated, nor will these words proceed from his contemplation and elaboration of them. For this man, because he was truly wise and a teacher in all learning, had rendered himself free from the bonds of matter and its fantasies by the abundance of virtue and very long and knowing familiarity in divine realities and by his laborious industry, and so really possessed a mind illuminated by divine light and could thus see what others do not see. In addition, he had the gift of words to explain most accurately the object of his contemplations, and like a mirror which is not obscured by any stain of the passions he had the power of both understanding and speaking about things which others could not perceive, so that those who listened to him could be brought to see the whole meaning of his discourse, the whole content of his thoughts clearly perceived in all their meaning and transferred to them through the medium of his words. But such things I remember and can comprehend dimly and speak of even more dimly, but devoutly and with the grace of God who illumines obscure things. For I do not suppose that you who know how to judge rightly should think that I can know and say otherwise than as I can, and as grace from on high endows in accordance with the strength apportioned to me by Providence, even if the giver or rather the teacher is the Most High. Indeed, to expect the same things from those who are not equal either in virtue or in knowledge does not seem to me to be far different from those who try to prove that the moon shines as brightly as the sun or who persist in identifying two things which are not the same, which is impossible.
But let God be the guide of our words and our concepts, the sole intelligence of intelligent beings and intelligible things, the meaning behind those who speak and of what is spoken, the life of those who live and those who receive life, who is and who becomes all for all beings, through whom everything is and becomes but who by himself never is nor becomes in any way anything that ever is or becomes in any manner. In this way he can in no way be associated by nature with any being and thus because of his superbeing is more fittingly referred to as nonbeing. For since it is necessary that we understand correctly the difference between God and creatures, then the affirmation of superbeing must be the negation of beings, and the affirmation of beings must be the negation of superbeing. In fact both names, being and nonbeing, are to be reverently applied to him although not at all properly. In one sense they are both proper to him, one affirming the being of God as cause of beings, the other completely denying in him the being which all beings have, based on his preeminence as cause. On the other hand, neither is proper to him because neither represents in any way an affirmation of the essence of the being under discussion as to its substance or nature. For nothing whatsoever, whether being or nonbeing, is linked to him as a cause, no being or what is called being. no nonbeing, or what is called nonbeing, is properly close to him. Ie has in fact a simple existence, unknowable and inaccessible to all and altogether beyond understanding which transcends all affirmation and negation. But so much for this; let us come to the subject we propose to treat.
How and in what manner holy is an image and figure of God.
Now that blessed old man used to say that at the first level of contemplation holy Church bears the imprint and image of God since it has the same activity as he does by imitation and in figure. For God who made and brought into existence all by his infinite power contains, gathers, and limits them and in his Providence binds both intelligible and sensible beings to himself and to one another. Maintaining about himself as cause, beginning, and end all beings which are by nature distant from one another, he makes them converge in each other by the singular force of their relationship to him as origin. Through this force he leads all beings to a common and unconfused identity of movement and existence, no one being originally in revolt against any other or separated from him by a difference of nature or of movement, but all things combine with all others in an unconfused way by the singular indissoluble relation to and protection of the one principle and cause. This reality abolishes and dims all their particular relations considered according to each one’s nature, but not by dissolving or destroying them or putting an end to their existence. Rather it does so by transcending them and revealing them, as the whole reveals its parts or as the whole is revealed in its cause by which the same whole and its parts came into being and appearance since they have their whole cause surpassing them in splendour. And just as the sun outshines the stars both in nature and energy so also does it conceal their existence from those who look for their cause. For just as the parts come from the whole, so do effects properly proceed and get known from the cause and hold their particularities still when understood with exclusive reference to the cause and, as was said, according to the singular force of their relationship to it. For being all in all, the God who transcends all in infinite measure will be seen only by those who are pure in understanding when the mind in contemplative recollection of the principles of beings will end up with God as cause, principle, and end of all, the creation and beginning of all things and eternal ground of the circuit of things.
It is in this way that the holy Church of God will be shown to be working for us the same effects as God, in the same way as the image reflects its archetype. For numerous and of almost infinite number are the men, women, and children who are distinct from one another and vastly different by birth and appearance, by nationality and language, by customs and age, by opinions and skills, by manners and habits, by pursuits and studies, and still again by reputation, fortune, characteristics, and connections: All are born into the Church and through it are reborn and recreated in the Spirit. To all in equal measure it gives and bestows one divine form and designation, to be Christ’s and to carry his name. In accordance with faith it gives to all a single, simple, whole, and indivisible condition which does not allow us to bring to mind the existence of the myriads of differences among them, even if they do exist, through the universal relationship and union of all things with it. It is through it that absolutely no one at all is in himself separated from the community since everyone converges with all the rest and joins together with them by the one, simple, and indivisible grace and power of faith. For all, it is said, had but one heart and one mind. Thus to be and to appear as one body formed of different members is really worthy of Christ himself, our true head, in whom says the divine Apostle, there is neither male nor female, neither Jew nor Greek, neither circumcision nor uncircumcision, neither foreigner nor Scythian, neither slave nor freeman, but Christ is everything in all of you. It is he who encloses in himself all beings by the unique, simple, and infinitely wise power of his goodness. As the centre of straight lines that radiate from him he does not allow by his unique, simple, and single cause and power that the principles of beings become disjoined at the periphery but rather he circumscribes their extension in a circle and brings back to himself the distinctive elements of beings which he himself brought into existence. The purpose of this is so that the creations and products of the one God be in no way strangers and enemies to one another by having no reason or centre for which they might show each other any friendly or peaceful sentiment or identity, and not run the risk of having their being separated from God to dissolve into nonbeing.
Thus, as has been said, the holy Church of God is an image of God because it realizes the same union of the faithful with God. As different as they are by language, places, and customs, they are made one by it through faith. God realizes this union among the natures of things without confusing them but in lessening and bringing together their distinction, as was shown, in a relationship and union with himself as cause, principle, and end.
Why, bow, and in what manner the holy of God is an image of the world composed of visible and invisible substances.
On a second level of contemplation he used to speak of God’s holy Church as a figure and image of the entire world composed of visible and invisible essences because like it, it contains both unity and diversity.
For while it is one house in its construction it admits of a certain diversity in the disposition of its plan by being divided into an area exclusively assigned to priests and ministers, which we call a sanctuary, and one accessible to all the faithful, which we call a nave. Still, it is one in its basic reality without being divided into its parts by reason of the differences between them, but rather by their relationship to the unity it frees these parts from the difference arising from their names. İt shows to each other that they are both the same thing, and reveals that one is to the other in turn what each one is for itself. Thus, the nave is the sanctuary in potency by being consecrated by the relationship of the sacrament toward its end, and in turn the sanctuary is the nave in act by possessing the principle of its own sacrament, which remains one and the same in its two parts. In this way the entire world of beings produced by God in creation is divided into a spiritual world filled with intelligible and incorporeal essences and into this sensible and bodily world which is ingeniously woven together of many forms and natures. This is like another sort of Church not of human construction which is wisely revealed in this church which is humanly made, and it has for its sanctuary the higher world assigned to the powers above, and for its nave the lower world which is reserved to those who share the life of sense.
Once again, there is but one world and it is not divided by its parts. On the contrary, it encloses the differences of the parts arising from their natural properties by their relationship to what is one and indivisible in itself. Moreover, it shows that both are the same thing with it and alternately with each other in an unconfused way and that the whole of one enters into the whole of the other, and both fill the same whole as parts fill a unit, and in this way the parts are uniformly and entirely filled as a whole. For the whole spiritual world seems mystically imprinted on the whole sensible world in symbolic forms, for those who are capable of seeing this, and conversely the whole sensible world is spiritually explained in the mind in the principles which it contains. In the spiritual world it is in principles; in the sensible world it is in figures. And their function was like a wheel within a wheel, as says the marvelous seer of extraordinary things, Ezekiel, in speaking, I think, of the two worlds. And again, The invisible realities from the creation of the world have been perceived and are recognized through the things he has made, says the divine Apostle. And if we perceive what does not appear by means of what does, as the Scripture has it, then much more will visible things be understood by means of invisible by those who advance in spiritual contemplation. Indeed, the symbolic contemplation of intelligible things by means of visible realities is spiritual knowledge and understanding of visible things through the visible. For it is necessary that things which manifest each other bear a mutual reflection in an altogether true and clear manner and keep their relationship intact.
That the holy Church of God is an image of the sensible world by itself.
Moreover, he used to say that God’s holy church in itself is a symbol of the sensible world as such, since it possesses the divine sanctuary as heaven and the beauty of the nave as earth. Likewise the world is a church since it possesses heaven corresponding to a sanctuary, and for a nave it has the adornment of the earth.
How and in what manner the holy of God symbolically represents man and how it is represented by him as man.
And again from another point of view he used to say that holy Church is like a man because for the soul it has the sanctuary, for mind it has the divine altar, and for body it has the nave. It is thus the image and likeness of man who is created in the image and likeness of God. By means of the nave, representing the body, it proposes moral wisdom, while by means of the sanctuary, representing the soul, it spiritually interprets natural contemplation, and by means of the mind of the divine altar it manifests mystical theology. Conversely, man is a mystical church, because through the nave which is his body he brightens by virtue the ascetic force of the soul by the observance of the commandments in moral wisdom. Through the sanctuary of his soul he conveys to God in natural contemplation through reason the principles of sense purely in spirit cut off from matter. Finally, through the altar of the mind he summons the silence abounding in song in the innermost recesses of the unseen and unknown utterance of divinity by another silence, rich in speech and tone. And as far as man is capable, he dwells familiarly within mystical theology and becomes such as is fitting for one made worthy of his indwelling and he is marked with his dazzling splendour.
How and in what manner still is the holy of God an image and figure of the soul considered by itself.
And he used to teach that it is not only of the whole man, that is, as composed of body and soul joined together, that God’s holy Church can be an image but also of the soul considered in itself by reason. For, said he, the soul in general consists of an intellectual and a vital faculty, the former moved freely according to its will, the latter remaining without choice in accordance with nature. And the contemplative power belongs to the intellectual faculty and the active power belongs to the vital faculty. The contemplative power he used to call mind, the active power reason. The mind is the mover of the intellectual faculty whereas the reason provides for the vital faculty. The former, that is, the mind, is and is called wisdom when it directs its proper movements altogether unswervingly toward God. In the same way the reason is and is called prudence when in uniting to the mind the activities of the vital faculty wisely governed by it in sensible direction, it shows that it is not different from it but bears the same divine image by virtue as does the mind. This image, he added, is naturally shared by both mind and reason as the soul was previously proven to of mind and reason because it is intellectual and rational and the vital faculty is equally evident in both mind and reason for it is not licit to think of either as deprived of life – and thus shared by both. By means of it the mind, which is also called wisdom, as we said, increasing in the habit of contemplation in the ineffable silence and knowledge, is led to the truth by enduring and incomprehensible knowledge. For its part, the reason, which we called prudence, ends up at the good by means of faith in the active engagement of its body in virtue. In both these things consists the true science of divine and human matters, the truly secure knowledge and term of all divine wisdom according to Christians.
And to speak more clearly of these things, he used to say that the soul has a contemplative aspect, as has been said, and also an active aspect. The contemplative aspect he called mind and the active he called reason, since these are the primary powers of the soul. Moreover he used to call the mind wisdom and the soul prudence, since these are its primary acts. Going into more detail he used to say that to the soul belong, through its intelligent mind, wisdom, contemplation, knowledge, and enduring knowledge, all directed to truth. Through its rational reason belong reasoning, prudence, action, virtue, and faith, all directed to the good. Truth and goodness, he used to say, reveal God. Truth does this when the divine seems to be revealed in its essence, for truth is something simple, unique, one, identical, indivisible, immutable, impassible, all-seeing, and wholly eternal. Goodness, on the other hand, reveals God when it manifests lim in its activities: for the good is beneficent and provident and protective of everything that comes from it. In the opinion of etymologists the word which derives from to be in abundance, or to be settled, or to run signifies that it is a bestower of being, continuation, and movement to all beings. Thus these five pairs that we observed in the soul, he spoke of as being understood in the single pair which signifies God. These pairs are the mind and reason, wisdom and prudence, contemplation and action, knowledge and virtue, enduring knowledge and faith. The pair which reveals God is truth and goodness. When the soul is moved by them to make progress it becomes united the God of all in imitating what is immutable and beneficent in his essence and activity by means of its steadfastness in the good and its unalterable habit of choice. And if I might add a brief but useful consideration, this is perhaps the ten divine strings of the spiritual lyre of the soul which includes the reason resounding in harmony with the spirit through another blessed series of ten, the commandments, which spiritually renders perfect, harmonious, and melodious sounds in praise of God. This is so that I might learn what is the meaning of the ten which sing and the ten which are sung, and how the ten are mystically attuned and united to the other tenJesus my God and Savior, who is completed by me who am saved, brings me back to himself who is always filled to overflowing with plenitude and who can never be exhausted. He restores me in a marvelous way to myself, or rather to God from whom I received being and toward whom I am directed, long desirous of attaining happiness. Whoever can understand this by having had the experience of these things will completely come to know in clearly having recognized his own dignity already through experience, how there is rendered to the image what is made to the image, how the archetype is honoured, what is the power of the mystery of our salvation, for whom it was that Christ died, and finally how we can remain in him and he in us as he said, and how the word of the Lord is right and all his works are faithful. But we have sufficiently spoken of these things, so let us return to the train of our discourse.
The mind, he used to say, arrives at contemplation when it is moved by wisdom, by contemplation to knowledge, by knowledge to enduring knowledge, by enduring knowledge to truth. It is here that the mind finds the term of its movement, for in it are included essence, potency, habit, and act. Now he used to say that wisdom is a potency of the mind and that the mind is wisdom in potency, that contemplation is a habit, that knowledge is act, that enduring knowledge (of wisdom, contemplation, and knowledge, i.e., of potency, habit, and act) is the perpetual and unceasing movement toward the knowable which transcends knowledge whose term is truly ultimate knowable. And what is admirable is how the enduring reality finds its end once it is included or comes to its term in the truth, that is, in God. For God is the truth toward which the mind moves continuously and enduringly, and it can never cease its movement since it does not find any discontinuity there. For the wonderful grandeur of God’s infinity is without quantity or parts, and completely without dimension, and offers no grip to take hold of it and to know what it is in its essence. Now what has no discontinuity or which offers no grip at all is not limited by anything.
As for reason, it is analogously moved by prudence and arrives at action; through action it comes to virtue; through virtue it comes to faith, the genuinely solid and infallible certainty of divine realities. The reason possesses it at first in potency by prudence, and later demonstrates it in act by virtue through its manifestation in works. Indeed, as the Scripture has it, faith without works is dead. Now no reasonable person would ever presume to say that anything dead or without activity should be counted among the finer things. But when by means of faith it arrives at the good which is its term, the reason ends its proper activities because its potency, habit, and act are now concluded.
He used to say, in fact, that prudence is the potency of reason and that reason is prudence in potency. Also that action is habit, that virtue is act, and that faith is the inward and unchangeable concretization of prudence, action, and virtue (i. e., of potency, habit, and act). Its final term is the good where, ceasing its movement, the reason rests. It is God, precisely, who is the good at which every potency of every reason is meant to end. How and in what way each of these succeeds and is brought to reality, and what is opposed or allied to each of them and in what measure, is not our present purpose to determine or say. Nevertheless, we should know that every soul by the grace of the Holy Spirit and his own work and diligence can unite these things and weave them into each other: reason with mind, prudence with wisdom, action with contemplation, virtue with knowledge, faith with enduring knowledge, without any of these things being inferior or superior to the other in such a way that all excess or defect be eliminated from each of them. To summarize: It means to reduce the ten to one, when it will be united to God who is true, good, one, and unique. It will be beautiful and splendid, having become similar to him as much as it can by the perfecting of the four basic virtues which reveal the divine ten in the soul and include the other blessed ten of the commandments. In fact, the tetrad is the decade in potency, joined together in a progressive series from the one. so And moreover it is itself a monad which singly embraces the good as a unity and which by being itself shared without division reflects the simplicity and indivisibility of the divine activity. s It is through them that the soul vigorously keeps its own good free from attack and bravely repels what is foreign to it as evil, because it has a rational mind, a prudent wisdom, an active contemplation, a virtuous knowledge, and along with them an enduring knowledge which is both very faithful and unchangeable. And it conveys to God the effects wisely joined to their causes and the acts to their potencies, and in exchange for these it receives a deification which creates simplicity.
For thought is the act and manifestation of the mind related as effect to cause, and prudence is the act and manifestation of wisdom, and action of contemplation, and virtue of knowledge, and faith of enduring knowledge. From these is produced the inward relationship to the truth and the good, that is, to God, which he used to call divine science, secure knowledge, love, and peace in which and by means of which there is deification. This whole real is science because it is the achievement of all knowledge concerning God and divine realities and virtues which is accessible to men. It is knowledge because it genuinely lays hold of the truth and offers a lasting experience of God. It is love because it shares by its whole disposition in the full happiness of God. Finally it is peace inasmuch as it experiences the same things as God and prepares for this experience those who are judged worthy to come to it. If God is completely without change and has nothing to trouble him (for what can escape his view?), then peace is an unshaken and unmoved solidity and an untroubled happiness. Here the entire soul experiences divine things when it is judged worthy of obtaining divine peace. And this peace makes it pass beyond, if we may speak this way, the limits not only of malice and ignorance, of lying and wickedness and of vices opposed to virtue, knowledge, truth, and goodness which exist alongside the natural movements of the soul, but even the limits of virtue itself, and knowledge, and truth and goodness as we know them. It brings us to rest beyond speech and knowledge in the ultimate truth and goodness of God’s embrace in accordance with his unfailing promise, so that there is no longer anything at all which can trouble it or cause it any disturbance in the secret recesses in God. It is in this blessed and most holy embrace that is accomplished this awesome mystery of a union transcending mind and reason by which God becomes one flesh and one spirit with the Church and thus with the soul, and the soul with God. Ö Christ, how shall I marvel at your goodness? I shall not presume to sing praises because I have not enough strength to marvel in a worthy manner. For, they shall be two in one flesh, says the divine Apostle; this is a great mystery, I speak of Christ and the Church. And he adds, The one who cleaves to the Lord is one spirit.
Thus when the soul has become unified in this way and is centred on itself and on Gods there is no reason to divide it on purpose into numerous things because its head is crowned by the first and only and unique Word and God. It is in him as the Creator and Maker of beings that all the principles of things both are and subsist as one in an incomprehensible simplicity. Gazing with a simple understanding on him who is not outside it but thoroughly in the whole of reality, it will itself understand the principles of beings and the causes why it was distracted by divisive pursuits before being espoused to the Word of God. It is by them that it is logically brought safe and sound to him who creates and embraces all principles and causes.
Such, then, as we have said are the elements of the soul which spiritually possesses wisdom in potency. From wisdom it is led to contemplation, whence to knowledge. From knowledge it is led to enduring knowledge, whence to truth, which is the term and end of all the blessings of the mind. By reason it possesses prudence; from this it is led to action, from action to virtue, whence to faith whereby it rests in the good which is the blessed term of reasonable activities. Through these the science of divine things is acquired from the unifying encounter of these things with each other. It is to all these things that the holy Church of God clearly adapts itself when likened in contemplation to the soul. By means of the sanctuary it signifies everything that is manifested as existing in the mind and proceeding from it; by means of the nave it indicates what is shown to exist in the reason and projects from the reason. All of these things it gathers together for the mystery accomplished on the divine altar. Whoever has been fortunate enough to have been spiritually and wisely initiated into what is accomplished in church has rendered his soul divine and a veritable church of God. It is perhaps for this reason that the church made by human hands which is its symbolic copy because of the variety of divine things which are in it has been given to us for our guidance toward the highest good.
How and in what manner holy Scripture is said to be a man.
He used to say further that just as in elevated o contemplation the Church is a spiritual man and man is a mystical Church so is the entire holy Scripture taken as a whole a mans with the Old Testament as body and the New Testament as spirit and mind. Moreover he said that the historical letter of the entire holy Scripture, Old Testament and New, is a body while the meaning of the letter and the purpose to which it is directed is the soul. And when I heard this I especially admired the exactness of the image and praised as well and as fittingly as I could the one who distributes his graces according to each one’s merit. For as man who is ourselves is mortal in what is visible and immortal in the invisible, so also does holy Scripture, which contains a visible letter which is passing and a hidden spirit underneath the letter which never ceases to exist, organize the true meaning of contemplation. And just as that man who is ourselves wastes the flesh in mastering by wisdom the desires and drives of the passions, so does holy Scripture spiritually understood circumcise its own letter. For, says the great Apostle, to the degree that our exterior man perishes, the interior man is renewed day by day. This can be also thought and said of holy Scripture if we consider it morally as a man. To the extent that its letter withdraws, its spirit is enriched; and to the extent that the shadows of the temporal worship pass, so is there introduced the splendid, brilliant, and shadowless truth of faith. It is in accordance with and by virtue of this truth of faith that it principally is, is written, and is called Scripture, being engraved on the mind through spiritual grace. It is just like the man who is ourselves: He especially is and is called man principally because of his rational and intelligent soul according to and by means of which he is an image and likeness of God his Creator and distinguished in nature from other living things without any appearance of a faculty putting him in relationship with them.
How the world is said to be a man, and in manner man is a world.
And again using a well-known images he submitted that the whole world, made up of visible and invisible things, is man and conversely that man made up of body and soul is a world. He asserted, indeed, that intelligible things display the meaning of the soul as the soul does that of intelligible things, and that sensible things display the place of the body as the body does that of sensible things. And, he continued, intelligible things are the soul of sensible things, and sensible things are the body of intelligible things; that as the soul is in the body so is the intelligible in the world of sense, that the sensible is sustained by the intelligible as the body is sustained by the soul; that both make up one world as body and soul make up one man, neither of these elements joined to the other in unity denies or displaces the other according to the law of the one who has bound them together. In conformity with this law there is engendered the principles of the unifying force which does not permit that the substantial identity uniting these things be ignored because of their difference in nature, nor that their particular characteristics which limit each of these things to itself appear more pronounced because of their separation and division than the kinship in love mystically inspired in them for union. It is by the kinship that the universal and unique mode of the invisible and unknowable presence in all things of the cause which holds all things together by his existence in all things renders them unmixed and undivided in themselves and in relation to each other. And it shows that they exist by the relationship which unites them to each other rather than to themselves, until such time as pleases the one who bound them together to separate them in view of a greater and more mystical arrangement? in the time of the expected universal consummation, when the world, as man, will die to its life of appearances and rise again renewed of its oldness in the resurrection expected presently. At this time the man who is ourselves will rise with the world as a part with the whole and the small with the large, having obtained the power of not being subject to further corruption. Then the body will become like the soul and sensible things like intelligible things in dignity and glory, for the unique divine power will manifest itself in all things in a vivid and active presence proportioned to each one, and will by itself preserve unbroken for endless ages the bond of unity.
Thus if any one of these three men the world, holy Scripture, and the one who is ourselves –wishes to have a life and condition that is pleasing and acceptable to God let him do what is best and noblest of all. And let him as best he can take care of the soul which is immortal, divine, and in process of deification through the virtues, and let him disdain the flesh which is subject to corruption and death and able to soil the soul’s dignity by its carelessness. For, it is said, the body burdens the soul and its earthen dwelling crushes the thoughtful mind. And again, The flesh lusts against the spirit and the spirit against the flesh. And again, He who sows in his flesh will reap corruption from the flesh. And let him be moved to do spiritual battle through knowledge against the incorporeal and intellectual powers and leave aside present and visible things, for visible things are passing but invisible things are eternal, and it is in these through the abundant habit of peace that God rests. And let him through an informed study of holy Scripture wisely get past its letter and rise up to the Holy Spirit in whom are found the fullness of all goodness and the treasures of knowledge and the secrets of wisdom. If anyone is shown to be interiorly worthy he will find God himself engraved on the tablets of his heart through the grace of the Spirit and with face unveiled will see as in a mirror the glory of God once he has removed the veil of the letter.
Of what the first entrance of the holy synaxis and the ceremonies follow it are symbols.
After the concise exposition of the views expressed by the blessed old man concerning holy Church, our discourse can proceed by making an even briefer interpretation, as we can, of the holy synaxis. According to his teaching, then, the first entrance of the bishop into the holy Church for the sacred synaxis is a figure and image of the first appearance in the flesh of Jesus Christ the son of God and our Savior in this world. By it he freed human nature which had been enslaved by corruption, betrayed through its own fault to death because of sin, tyrannically dominated by the devil. He redeemed all its debt as if he were liable even though he was not liable but sinless, and brought us back again to the original grace of his kingdom° by giving himself as a ransom for us. And in exchange for our destructive passions he gives us his life-giving Passion as a salutary cure which saves the whole world. After this appearance, his ascension into heaven and return to the heavenly throne are symbolically figured in the bishop’s entrance into the sanctuary and ascent to the priestly throne.
What is the meaning of the entrance of the people into the holy of God.
The venerable old man used to say that the entrance of the people into the church with the bishop represents the conversions of the unfaithful from faithlessness to faith and from sin and error to the recognition of God as well as the passage of the faithful from vice and ignorance to virtue and knowledge. For entrance into the church signifies not only the conversion of infidels to the true and only God but also the amendment of each one of us who believe but who yet violate the Lord’s commandments under the influence of a loose and indecent life. Indeed, when any person is a murderer, or adulterer, robber, haughty, boastful, insolent, ambitious, greedy, slanderous, resentful, inclined to outbursts and anger, a drunkard, and in a word – lest I weary my discourse by enumerating all kinds of vice when someone is entangled in any kind of vice but should cease voluntarily to be held by its attention and deliberately to act according to it and changes his life for the better by preferring virtue to vice, such a person can be properly and truly considered and spoken of as entering with Christ our God and High Priest into virtue, which is the church understood figuratively.
What is symbolized by the divine readings.
The master used to say that the divine readings from the sacred books reveal the divine and blessed desires and intentions of God most holy. Through them each one of us receives in proportion to the capacity which is in him the counsels by which he should act, and we learn the laws of the divine and blessed struggles in which by consistent fighting we will be judged worthy of the victorious crowns of Christ’s kingdom.
What the divine chants symbolize.
He used to say that the spiritual enjoyment of the divine hymns signified the vivid delights of the divine blessings by moving souls toward the clear and blessed love of God and by arousing them further to the hatred of sin.
What the salutations of peace signify.
The wise man declared that by the salutations of peace which are issued from within the sanctuary on the signal of the bishop at each reading are indicated the divine favours imparted by the holy angels. By them God determines the combats of those who fight bravely for the truth against opposing forces by breaking off the invisible struggles and by giving peace in the destruction of the body and by giving to the saints the grace of detachment in return for their labours for virtue. And once delivered from this warfare they turn the forces of the soul to spiritual cultivation, that is, to the accomplishment of the virtues.
Through these forces they disperse the armies of evil spirits under the command of God the Word, who scatters the sharp and wily machinations of the devil.
Of what specifically are the reading of the holy Gospel and the mysteries that follow it a symbol.
Immediately after these things the sacred order of the holy Church prescribes that there should take place the reading of the divine Gospel which specifically proposes to those who are zealous some suffering on behalf of the Word. Then the word of gnostic contemplation comes to them from heaven as High Priest to constrict their fleshly understanding as a sort of sensible world by restraining the reasoning still inclining to earth, and in driving them away from there it leads them, by the closing of the doors and the entrance into the holy mysteries, to the vision of spiritual principles and realities. And after having shut their senses and having become outside of the flesh and the world, he teaches them unspeakable things as they are reconciled first with each other and with him through the kiss of peace and offer him in return for his numerous benefits toward them the grateful confession for their salvation which is intimated by the creed of faith. Next, having set them in the number of the angels through the Trisagion and having bestowed on them the same understanding of sanctifying theology as theirs, he leads them to God the Father, having become adopted in the Spirit through the prayer whereby they were rendered worthy to call God Father. And again after that, as having through knowledge passed all the principles in beings he leads them beyond knowledge to the unknowable Monad by the hymn One is Holy, and so forth, now divinized by love and made like him by participation in an indivisible identity to the extent that this is possible.
Of the divine reading of the holy Gospel is a symbol in its general meaning. What is generally intimated about the end of this world.
After the divine reading of the holy Gospel the bishop descends from his throne and there takes place the dismissal and sending away of the catechumens and of others unworthy of the divine vision of the mysteries to be displayed. It signifies and figures by itself the truth, of which it is an image and figure, as if proclaiming thereby that after having preached, as is written, the Gospel of the kingdom in the whole world as a witness to all the Gentiles the end will then appear in the second coming of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ from the heavens in glory. For the Lord himself . . will come down from heaven at the archangel’s voice and the Lord’s trumpet, says the divine Apostle. And he will wreak vengeance on his enemies and through the holy angels will separate the faithful from the unfaithful, the just from the unjust, the saints from the accursed and, in short, those who have walked uprightly in the Spirit of God from those who follow after the flesh;% and for infinite and endless ages, as the truth of God’s declarations affirms, he will render to each one the just reward of the life he has led.
Of what the closing of the doors of the holy after the reading of the holy Gospel is a symbol.
The closing of the doors which takes place after the sacred reading of the holy Gospel and the dismissal of the catechumens signifies the passing from material things which will come about after that terrible separation and even more terrible judgment and the entrance of those who are worthy into the spiritual world, that is, into the nuptial chamber of Christ, as well as the complete extinction in our senses of deceptive activity.
What is signified by the entrance into the holy mysteries.
The entrance into the holy and august mysteries, as that great old man used to say, is the beginning and prelude of the new teaching which will take place in the heavens concerning the plan of God for us and the revelation of the mystery of our salvation which is in the most secret recesses of the divine.
For as the Word of God says to his disciples, I shall not drink of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it anew with you in the kingdom of my Father.
What is symbolized by the divine kiss.
The spiritual kiss which is extended to all prefigures and portrays the concord, unanimity, and identity of views which we shall all have among ourselves in faith and love at the time of the revelation of the ineffable blessings to come. In this situation those who are worthy will receive intimate familiarity with the Word of God. For the mouth is a symbol of the Word, precisely through whom all those who share in reason as reasonable beings are united to the first and unique Word who is the cause of every word and meaning.
What is symbolized by the divine symbol of faith.
The profession by all of the divine symbol of faith signifies the mystical thanksgiving to perdure through all eternity for the marvelous principles and modes by which we were saved by God’s all-wise Providence on our behalf. Through it those who are worthy are confirmed as grateful for the divine favours, for otherwise they would have no other way of returning anything at all for the numberless divine blessings toward them.
What is symbolized by the doxology of the Trisagion.
The triple exclamation of holiness which all the faithful people proclaim in the divine hymn represents the union and the equality of honour to be manifested in the future with the incorporeal and intelligent powers. In this state human nature, in harmony with the powers on high through the identity of an inflexible eternal movement around God, will be taught to sing and to proclaim holy with a triple holiness the single Godhead in three Persons.
Of what holy prayer Our Father is a symbol.
The most holy and venerable invocation of our great and blessed God the Father is a symbol of the personal and real adoption to be bestowed through the gift and grace of the Holy Spirit. In accordance with it, once every human particularity is overcome and disclosed by the coming of grace, all the saints will be and be called sons of God to the extent that from that moment they will have radiantly and gloriously brightened themselves through the virtues with the divine beauty of goodness.
What is signified by the conclusion of the mystical service when the hymns are sung, that is, One is Holy, and so forth.
The profession One is Holy and what follows, which is voiced by all the people at the end of the mystical service, represents the gathering and union beyond reason and understanding which will take place between those who have been mystically and wisely initiated by God and the mysterious oneness of the divine simplicity in the incorruptible age of the spiritual world. There they behold the light of the invisible and ineffable glory and become themselves together with the angels on high open to the blessed purity. After this, as the climax of everything, comes the distribution of the sacrament, which trans forms into itself and renders similar to the causal good by grace and participation those who worthily share in it. To them is there lacking nothing of this good that is possible and attainable for men, so that they also can be and be called gods by adoption through grace because all of God entirely fills them and leaves no part of them empty of his presence.
How and in what manner is there conceived the deifying and perfective state of the soul considered in itself, and in concerns properly, after what bas just been said.
Now let us consider the same things again with reference to the contemplative soul by going through the same things with order and method. And with God leading us by the hand, as it were, let us not hinder the mind which longs and desires to rise a little in religious understanding insofar as it can to a higher contemplation, and to consider and perceive how the divine precepts of holy Church lead the soul, by a true and active knowledge, to its own perfection.
That the first entrance of the holy synaxis is a symbol of the of the soul.
So, now, you who have become the genuine lover of Christ’s blessed wisdom, consider with the mind’s eye the first entrance of the holy synaxis from the outside error and confusion of material things as it is written, Come here, you women who are coming from a sight, I mean of the wandering of the senses in form and shape on the basis of appearance. For one should not speak of true contemplation what I call the mere surface of sensible things, as did the fools whom the Greeks called wise. Among us they would never have been called wise because they could not or would not recognize God from his works. On the basis of this surface appearance of things there has developed a perpetual war of these things with each other to the mutual destruction of all since everything is destroying each other and being destroyed in each other, and the only result is that they are unstable and perish and are never able to meet each other in a tranquil and secure situation.
And consider how the soul in fleeing them headlong comes as into a church to an inviolable shelter of peace in the natural contemplation’ in the Spirit, and how free of any fighting or disorder it enters it together with reason and before the Word and our great and true High Priest of God. There it learns, by symbols of the divine readings which take place, the principles of beings and the marvelous and grand mystery of divine Providence revealed in the Law and the Prophets, and it receives in each, by the beautiful instruction divinely given in them through the holy angels who spiritually communicate to it the true understanding, the peaceful meanings with the strengthening and preserving enchantment of the divine and ardent desire for God by means of the spiritual appeal of the divine chants singing in it mystically. And consider again how the soul passes beyond this and concentrates on the one and only summit, the holy Gospel, which collects these principles together into one and in which preexist in one form all the principles both of Providence and of existing things in a single burst of meaning. Following this, it is permitted to those who love God to see by a divine perception with the undaunted eyes of the mind the Word of God come to it from heaven and symbolized by the bishop’s descent from his priestly throne. He separates as catechumens the thoughts which are still formed from the senses and divisible because of them from its perfect part. And thence again it leaves the world of sense as suggested by the closing of the doors of God’s holy church, and leads it to the understanding of immaterial things signified by the entrance into the unutterable mysteries, and understanding which is immaterial, simple, immutable, divine, free of all form and shape, and by which the soul gathers to itself its proper powers and comes face to face with the Word, having united by a spiritual kiss both the principles and ineffable modes of its own salvation and teaching through the symbol of faith to confess this with thanksgiving.
From this moment on the soul is rendered as far as possible simple and indivisible by its instruction, having encompassed by knowledge the principles of both sensible and intelligible things. The Word then leads it to the knowledge of theology male manifest after its journey through all things, granting it an understanding equal to the angels as far as this is possible for it. He will teach it with such wisdom that it will comprehend the one God, one nature and three Persons, unity of essence in three persons and consubstantial trinity, of persons; trinity in unity and unity in trinity; not one and the other, or one without the other, or one through the other, or one in the other, or one from the other, but the same in itself and by itself and next to itself, the same with itself.
The same unity and trinity has a unity without composition or confusion and a distinction without separation or division. It is unity by reason of essence or of being, but not by any composition or joining together or confusion; it is trinity by reason of its mode of existence and subsistence, but not by any separation or diversity or division. For the unity is not divided into the persons nor does it exist in such a way that it can be considered in an external relationship to them. Nor are the persons put together to form a unity nor do they make it up by contraction but it is by itself the same reality, sometimes to be thought of in one way, sometimes in the other. For the holy trinity of persons is an unconfused unity in essence and in its simple nature; and the holy unity is a trinity of persons and in its mode of existence. We are to think of both of these distinctly, as was said, first one way, then the other: one, single, undivided, unconfused, simple, undiminished, and unchangeable divinity, completely one in essence and completely three in persons, and sole ray shining in the single form of one triple-splendoured light. In this light the soul now equal in dignity with the holy angels, having received the luminous principles which are accessible to creation in regard to divinity and having learned to praise in concert with them without keeping silent the one Godhead in a triple cry, is brought to the adoption of similar likeness by grace. By this, in having God through prayer as its mystical and only Father by grace, the soul will centre on the oneness of his hidden being by a distraction from all things, and it will experience or rather know divine things all the more as it does not want to be its own nor able to be recognized from or by itself or anyone else’s but only all of God’s who takes it up becomingly and fittingly as only he can, penetrating it completely without passion and deifying all of it and transforming it unchangeably to himself. Thus, as says the very holy Dionysius the Areopagite, it becomes the image and appearance of the invisible light, an accurate mirror, very transparent, without flaw, undefiled, unstained, receiving in itself, if we are allowed to say this, the splendour of the divine model and purely illuminating in himself, as far as possible, the goodness of the silence of the inner recesses.
What mysteries the enduring grace of the Holy Spirit effects and brings to completion through the rites accomplished in the holy synaxis in the faithful and those gathered in the church out of faith.
This, indeed, is why the blessed old man believed that every Christian should be exported and he never failed to do this – to frequent God’s holy church and never to abandon the holy synaxis accomplished therein because of the holy angels who remain there and who take note each time people enter and present themselves to God, and they make supplications for them; likewise because of the grace of the Holy Spirit which is always invisibly present, but in a special way at the time of the holy synaxis. This grace transforms and changes each person who is found there and in fact remolds him in proportion to what is more divine in him and leads him to what is revealed through the mysteries which are celebrated, even iThe does not himself feel this because he is still among those who are children in Christ, unable to see either into the depths of the reality or the grace operating in it, which is revealed through each of the divine symbols of salvation being accomplished, and which proceeds according to the order and progression from preliminaries to the end of everything.
Thus we see effected in the first entrance the rejection of unbelief, the increase of faith, the lessening of vice, the bestowal of virtue, the disappearance of ignorance, and the development of knowledge. By the hearing of the divine words there is effected the firm and unchangeable habits and dispositions of the realities just mentioned, that is, of faith, virtue, and knowledge. Through the divine chants which follow there is effected the deliberate consent of the soul to virtue as well as the spiritual delight and enjoyment that these arouse in it. By the sacred reading of the holy Gospel there is brought about the end of earthly thinking as of the world of sense. Then by the closing of doors which follows there is effected the passage and transfer of the soul in its disposition from this corruptible world to the intelligible world. whereby having closed its senses like doors it renders them cleansed of the idols of sin. By the entrance into the holy mysteries we see the more perfect and mystical and new teaching and knowledge of God’s dispensation toward us. By the divine kiss there is seen the identity of concord and oneness and love of all with everyone and of each one with himself first and then with God. By the profession of the symbol of faith there is seen the fitting thanks for the marvelous ways of our salvation. By the Trisagion there comes about the union with the holy angels and elevation to the same honour, as well as the ceaseless and harmonious persistency in the sanctifying glorification of God. By the prayer through which we are made worthy to call God our Father we receive the truest adoption in the grace of the Holy Spirit. By the One is holy and what follows, we have the grace and familiarity which unites us to God himself. By holy communion of the spotless and life-giving mysteries we are given fellowship and identity with him by participation in likeness, by which man is deemed worthy from man to become God. For we believe that in this present life we already have a share in these gifts of the Holy Spirit through the love that is in faith, and in the future age after we have kept the commandments to the best of our ability we believe that we shall have a share in them in very truth in their concrete reality according to the steadfast hope of our faith and the solid and unchangeable promise to which God has committed himself. Then we shall pass from the grace which is in faith to the grace of vision, when our God and Savior Jesus Christ will indeed transform us into himself by taking away from us the marks of corruption and will bestow on us the original mysteries which have been represented for us through sensible symbols here below. To make it easier to remember, if you wish, let us recapitulate thus the meaning of what has been said by running over it briefly.
Thus the holy church, as we said, is the figure and image of God inasmuch as through it he effects in his infinite power and wisdom an unconfused unity from the various essences of beings, attaching them to himself as a creator at their highest point, and this operates according to the grace of faith for the faithful, joining them all to each other in one form according to a single grace and calling of faith, the active and virtuous ones in a single identity of will, the contemplative and gnostic ones in an unbroken and undivided concord as well. It is a figure of both the spiritual and sensible world, with the sanctuary as symbol of the intelligible world and the nave as symbol of the world of sense.
It is as well an image of man inasmuch as it represents the soul by the sanctuary and suggests the body by the nave. Also it is a figure and image of the soul considered in itself because by the sanctuary it bears the glory of the contemplative element and by the nave the ornament of the active part. The first entrance of the holy synaxis which is celebrated in the church signifies in general the first appearance of Christ our God, and in particular the conversion of those who are being led by him and with him from unbelief to faith and from vice to virtue and also from ignorance to knowledge. The readings which take place after it signify in general the divine wishes and intentions in accordance with which everyone should conform and conduct himself, and in particular the teaching and progress in the faith of those who are believers, and the firm disposition of virtue of those who are active in accordance with which, by submitting themselves to the divine law of the commandments, they set themselves bravely and unshakenly against the devil’s wiles and escape his adversary works; finally it signifies the contemplative habits of those who have knowledge, in accordance with which, by bringing together as much as possible the spiritual principles of sensible realities and of Providence in what concerns them, they are borne without error to the truth.
The divine melodies of the chants indicate the divine delight and enjoyment which comes about in the souls of all. By it they are mystically strengthened in forgetting their past labours for virtue and are renewed in the vigorous desire of the divine and wholesome benefits still to be attained.
The holy Gospel is in general a symbol of the fulfillment of this world; in particular it indicates the complete disappearance of the ancient error in those who have believed; in the active, the mortification and the end of the law and thinking according to the flesh; and in those who have knowledge, the gathering and ascent from the numerous and various principles toward the most comprehensive principle, once the most detailed and varied natural contemplation has been reached and crossed.
The descent of the bishop from the throne and the dismissal of the catechumens signifies in general the second coming from heaven of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ and the separation of sinners from the saints and the just retribution rendered to each. In particular it means the perfect assurance of believers in faith which is produced by the Word of God become invisibly present to them, whereby every thought which still limps in some way regarding faith is dismissed from them as are the catechumens. Thus for the active ones there results perfect detachment by which every passionate and unenlightened thought departs from the soul, and for those with knowledge the comprehensive science of whatever is known by which all images of material things are chased away from the soul.
The closing of the doors and the entrance into the holy mysteries and the divine kiss and the recitation of the symbol of faith mean in general the passing away of sensible things and the appearance of spiritual realities and the new teaching of the divine mystery involving us and the future concord, unanimity, love, and identity of everyone with each other and with God, as well as the thanksgiving for the manner of our salvation. In a particular way it means the progress of the faithful from simple faith to learning in dogmas, initiation, accord, and piety. The closing of the doors indicates the first thing, the entrance into the holy actions the second, the kiss the third, the recitation of the creed the fourth. For those at the active stage it means the transfer from activity to contemplation of those who have closed their senses and who have become outside the flesh and the world by the rejection of activities for their own sake, and the ascent from the mode of the commandments to their principle, and the con-natural kinship and union of these commandments in their proper principles with the powers of the soul and the habit which is adapted to theological thanksgiving. For those who have knowledge, it involves the passing of natural contemplation to the simple understanding according to which they no longer pursue the divine and ineffable Word by sensation or anything that appears and the union with the soul of its powers and the simplicity which takes in under one form by the intellect the principle of Providence.
The unceasing and sanctifying doxology by the holy angels in the Trisagion signifies, in general, the equality in the way of life and conduct and the harmony in the divine praising which will take place in the age to come by both heavenly and earthly powers, when the human body now rendered immortal by the resurrection will no longer weigh down the soul by corruption and will not itself be weighed down but will take on, by the change into incorruption, potency and aptitude to receive God’s coming. In particular it signifies, for the faithful, the theological rivalry with the angels in faith; for the active ones, it symbolizes the splendour of life equal to the angels, so far as this is possible for men, and the persistence in the theological hymnology; for those who have knowledge, endless thoughts, hymns, and movements concerning the Godhead which are equal to the angels, so far as humanly possible. The blessed invocation of the great God and Father and the acclamation of the One is holy and what follows and the partaking of the holy and life-giving mysteries signify the adoption and union. as well as the familiarity and divine likeness and deification which will come about through the goodness of our God in every way on all the worthy, whereby God himself will be all in all alike to those who are saved as a pattern of beauty resplendent as a cause in those who are resplendent along with him in grace by virtue and knowledge.
He used to call faithful, virtuous, and knowing the beginners, the proficient, and the perfect, that is, slaves, mercenaries, and sons, the three classes of the saved. The slaves are the faithful who execute the Lord’s commandments out of fear of threats and who willingly work for those who are obeyed. Mercenaries are those who out of a desire for promised benefits bear with patience the burden and heat of the day, that is, the affliction innate in and yoked to the present life from the condemnation of our first parents, and the temptations from it on behalf of virtue, and who by free choice of will wisely exchange life for life, the present one for the future. Finally, sons are the ones who out of neither fear of threats nor desire of promised things but rather out of character and habit of the voluntary inclination and disposition of the soul toward the good never become separated from God, as that son to whom it was said, Son, you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. They have become as much as possible by deification in grace what God is and is believed by nature and by cause.
Let us, then, not stray from the holy Church of God which comprehends in the sacred order of the divine symbols which are celebrated, such great mysteries of our salvation. Through them, in making each of us who conducts himself worthily as best he can in Christ, it brings to light the grace of adoption which was given through holy baptism in the Holy Spirit and which makes us perfect in Christ. Instead, let us with all our strength and zeal render ourselves worthy of the divine gifts in pleasing God by good works not being occupied as are the pagans who know not God, with the passion of concupiscence, but as the holy Apostle says, putting to death our members which are rooted in earth: fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire and covetousness which is idolatry, from which comes God’s wrath on the sons of disobedience, and all wrath, animosity, foul language, and lying, and to sum up, putting aside the old man which is corrupted by the lusts of illusion with his past deeds and lusts, let us walk in a manner worthy of God who has called us to his kingdom and his glory, having clothed ourselves with heartfelt compassion, with kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another in love and forgiving one another if one has a complaint against the other just as Christ has forgiven us, and over all these let us clothe ourselves with love and peace, the bond of perfection, to which we have been called in one body, in short, the new man who is constantly renewed in full knowledge according to the image of the one who created him. For if we lived in this way we would be able to arrive at the goal of the divine promises with a good hope and to be filled with the knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding, … being fruitful and increasing in the knowledge of the Lord, strengthened with all power according to the might of his glory for edification and long-suffering with joy, giving thanks to the Father for having made us worthy to share the inheritance of the saints in the light.
The clear proof of this grace is the voluntary disposition of good will toward those akin to us whereby the man who needs our help in any way becomes as much as possible our friend as God is and we do not leave him abandoned and forsaken but rather that with fitting zeal we show him in action the disposition which is alive in us with respect to God and our neighbour. For a work is proof of a disposition. Now nothing is either so fitting for justification or so apt for divinization, if I can speak thus, and nearness to God as mercy offered with pleasure and joy from the soul to those who stand in need. For if the Word has shown that the one who is in need of having good done to him is God for as long, he tells us, as you did it for one of these least ones, you did it for me on God’s very word, then, he will much more show that the one who can do good and who does it is truly God by grace and participation because he has taken on in happy imitation the energy and characteristic of his own doing good. And if the poor man is God, it is because of God’s condescension in becoming poor for us and in taking upon himself by his own suffering the sufferings of each one and until the end of time, always suffering mystically out of goodness in proportion to each one’s suffering. All the more reason, then, will that one be God who by loving men in imitation of God heals by himself in divine fashion the hurts of those who suffer and who shows that he has in his disposition, safeguarding all proportion, the same power of saving Providence that God has.
Who, then, is so slow and lazy with regard to virtue as not to desire divinity when one can acquire it at such small cost and so readily and easily? For a firm and secure protection of these things and an easy way to salvation outside of which none of these benefits will be kept truly without harm by the one who has them is the personal attention to our actions whereby in learning to regard and consider what concerns us alone we free ourselves from the hollow hurt caused by others. For if we learn to see and examine ourselves alone we will never interfere in another’s concerns whatever they might be because we acknowledge God as the only wise and just judge who judges wisely and justly all things that exist according to the principle of their being not according to the manner of their appearance. Men might also make a judgment by looking vaguely at appearances but the truth and meaning of existing things are not at all to be found there. God, on the other hand, who looks at the soul’s hidden motivation and its unseen desire and the principle of these by which the soul is drawn, and its goal, that is, the foreseen end of every action, judges rightly, as was said, all the actions of men. And if we are zealous in succeeding in this and stay within our limited compass without becoming involved in external things we shall not permit the eye, ear, or tongue either to see, hear, or speak at all, if possible, what is the business of others, or at least in getting involved with compassion rather than with passion, we allow ourselves to see, hear, and speak them for our profit and only insofar as it seems good to the divine Word who controls them. For nothing slips more easily toward sin than these organs when they are not disciplined by reason, and on the other hand nothing is more apt to salvation when it commands, controls, and leads them toward where it ought and chooses to go.
Therefore, let us to the best of our ability not be careless in obeying God who calls us to eternal life and to a blessed end through the observance of his divine and saving commandments to receive mercy and find grace as an aid in time of need. For grace, says the divine Apostle, is with all who love our Lord Jesus Christ in incorruptibility, is that is, those who love our Lord with the of virtue and the pure and sincere dignity of life, or to speak more clearly, those who love the Lord by doing his will and by not transgressing any of his commands.
These things I have explained to the best of my ability as I have been taught, as the reward of obedience, not daring to touch on matters more mystical and sublime. But should any devout person desire to know them let him read what has been divinely worked out by Saint Dionysius the Areopagite and he will find the true revelation of ineffable mysteries granted to the human race through his divine intelligence and tongue for those who are to inherit salvation. And if these things have not fallen far off from your desire, it is thanks to Christ the giver of good things and to you who insisted that they be said. But if they have fallen far short of your expectations, what shall I do or suffer, I who have not had the strength to say them? For weakness should not be punished but pardoned. You must rather approve and not blame me for having yielded to you and accepted the task, especially you to whom it is enjoined to love for the sake of God. And God is pleased with anything which is genuinely offered from the soul to the best of its ability even if this seems small in comparison with great things. He did not reject the widow who offered her two small coins and whatever the widow and her two coins signified. It could be the soul widowed from wickedness which has forsaken the old law as a husband but is not yet worthy of sublime union with the Word of God, but yet offers as a pledge the coins of reason and conduct in due proportion; or else faith and good conscience, or habit and exercise in good things, or contemplation and activity corresponding to them, or knowledge and virtue in proportion, or means which are slightly higher, I mean those in the natural and the written law. When the soul
has attained these it gives them up in surpassing and abandoning them as all it has to live on, wishing only to be united to the Word of God. And it accepts to be widowed of violent modes and usages and customs according to nature and law as one becomes widowed of a spouse. Or the meaning could be hinting by means of the letter in which the story is told at something else which is more spiritual than these, understandable only to those who are pure of mind. For everything which seems great to men in virtue is small when compared to the reason which is initiated in theology. But even though they are small of ordinary material and of little worth they still bear just as much as gold coins, the very precious material that the rich offer, the same royal stamp besides the intention of her who offers it wholeheartedly.
In imitation of this woman I have myself offered to God and to you, Beloved, these thoughts and words that come from an intelligence and tongue poor and of little worth on the subject you asked me about. I offer them to you as small coins, beseeching your venerable and holy soul first not to request any further writing of anything I may have spoken of for two reasons. First, because I have not yet acquired that pure and enduring fear of God nor the firm habit of virtue, nor the steadfast and tranquil settling of true righteousness whose weight in a special way confers authority to the words; and second, because being still tossed about by great waves of passion as by a raging sea, and being still very far from the harbour of divine detachment and having an uncertain end of life, I do not want to have my written words to stand as an accuser in addition to my deeds. But finally, having accepted the gift of my obedience, if you wish, commend me by your prayers to Christ the great and only God and Savior of our souls, to whom be glory and power with the Father and the Holy Spirit forever. Amen.